Football: Utes bolster roster with new recruits

By By Cody Brunner

By Cody Brunner

Getting help on the offensive side of the ball was of the utmost importance to the U football coaches this recruiting season, and it looks as though their hard work paid off on National Signing Day.

Eleven of the 15 players who signed national letters of intent to play for the Utes next season are offensive players and two more could play either offense or defense.

“You recruit based on needs, and we felt the need to get certain positions filled on offense,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “We held true to our philosophy of recruiting the best players, regardless of position, and we became a more athletic team with this class.”

The Utes attempted to shore up their lack of size and playmaking ability at receiver by recruiting the position heavily, and it resulted in five signings.

Utah received intent letters from Mt. San Antonio College-transfer Aiona Key (6-4, 209 lbs.) and Pasadena City College-transfer David Reed (6-foot, 184 lbs.), as well as high-school athletes Kendrick Moeai (6-5, 200 lbs.), Ryan Lacy (5-10, 183 lbs.) and Luke Matthews (6-1, 205 lbs.).

“We signed five very athletic, talented wide receivers,” Whittingham said. “Aiona Key can jump 7’3″ in the high jump. David Reed set a junior college record with 111 catches last season. There will be plenty of depth at the position in the coming years.”

The Utes also picked up a number of talented big boys on the offensive lineman. Prized center Sam Brenner, who is listed in the top 10 at his position by a number of recruiting websites, agreed to play football at the U next year.

Other big pickups on the offensive line include Zach Davila (6-4, 315 lbs.), Derek Tuimauga (6-4, 335 lbs.) and Sealver Siliga (6-3, 345 lbs.). Siliga has played on both the offensive and defensive line, but it is uncertain where the Bingham High School product will end up at the college level.

The Utes got another pleasant surprise earlier this week when Dudley LaPorte, a 6-foot-3, 240-lb. tight end from Santa Barbara Community College, dropped into their laps. LaPorte was being recruited by Ole Miss, but when the school dropped its offer, LaPorte committed to the U.

Perhaps the biggest additions to the U offense will come at positions that are already log-jammed with talent. Devonte Christopher, a prolific pass-first quarterback from Las Vegas who has the ability to run the ball as well, will join a strong corps of signal-callers that includes Brian Johnson, Corbin Louks and Chad Manis.

“(Christopher) is a tremendously talented kid,” Whittingham said. “He reminds us a lot of (Johnson) and that Pat White kid from West Virginia. It’s very premature to make that kind of comparison, but that’s the style of player he is.”

Joining an already competitive battle at running back next season will be the highly touted bruiser from Alta High School, Sausan Shakerin. The 6-foot-2, 208-lb. tailback, who ran for 2,245 yards and 29 touchdowns his junior year, joins Darrell Mack, Matt Asiata and Ray Stowers at running back.

“The stable is full at running back, but adding (Shakerin) just bolsters it that much more,” Whittingham said. “He’ll definitely get an opportunity to show what he can do. One thing about Utah is that it doesn’t matter whether you’ve been in the program for five years or five days — the best guy is going to play.”

The Utes didn’t pursue defensive recruits nearly as hard this offseason, but the athletes they picked up should have an impact. It starts on the line with defensive tackle David Kruger, brother of Ute defensive end Paul Kruger. David is one of the premiere athletes out of Utah, and the Utes plucked him from BYU territory in Orem.

When asked if there was a chance that Utah fans would see both Krugers on the same defensive front next year, Whittingham said there was a “high likelihood.”

“David Kruger is a very developed kid for a 17-year-old, and it seems like he’s getting bigger by the minute,” Whittingham said. “If he’s anything like his brother, which we believe he is, he’s going to help us right away.”

Additionally, the Utes received letters of intent from defensive back Lamar Chapman from El Camino Junior College and Siaki Cravens, a 6-foot-1, 218-lb. all-around athlete from Temecula, Calif. Cravens played both tight end and linebacker in high school and it is uncertain what position he will play at the U.

Whittingham said that although the players are always recruited to a particular position, they don’t always end up in that spot.

The Utes will also welcome four returned LDS missionaries back to the program. Linebacker Gary Bird, offensive lineman Tony Bergstrom, defensive back Grayson Dart and linebacker Afa Garrigan will return for the 2008 season.

“We have signed 15 players all told at this moment,” Whittingham said. “There are still a couple of guys out there that we’re waiting on seeing where they sign, and hopefully we’ll find out about them in the next 24 hours.”

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